Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy Gbenga Omotoso spoke to reporters recently on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s administration and how it hopes to achieve its THEMES Plus Agenda for the state. OYEBOLA OWOLABI reports
Governor Sanwo-Olu has said he will be working with the THEMES Plus Agenda in this second term. What does the ‘Plus’ entail and how will it benefit Lagosians?
Mr Governor, in his second term inauguration speech and during the budget presentation, spoke about the THEMES Plus Agenda. It is very simple. Mr Governor felt he should add something that may not have been very well catered for in the THEMES Agenda. So, he brought on board the Plus, which is simply about social inclusion, gender equality and youth empowerment. This means that attention will be on our young people this second term. It is said that youths are the leaders of tomorrow, but this administration believes they are the leaders of today.
In entertainment young people are leaders, in science, technology and sports, they are at the forefront. So, no serious government that wants to grow will brush aside all that the young people are doing. That is why we are giving them all the opportunities they need to thrive. In the creative industry, over six thousand of them have been trained in film editing, acting, and script writing, by some of the giants in the trade like Del-York, Ogidi, and Ebonylife. The government has about 18 vocational centres where thousands of them have been trained for free. After graduation, they are not left on their own but given start-up equipment so they can pick up immediately.
As of now, we are building about nine mini stadia across the state where young people can display their talents in sports. We are also encouraging science and technology through the LASRIC fund, about 250 million has been put there so that young people who have ideas, and innovation and who will need to push through their dreams will have no problem sourcing funds. So everything about the THEMES Plus Agenda would be geared towards encouraging our young people, giving social inclusion to persons living with disabilities, and ensuring gender equality. Nobody will be left behind in Lagos State.
Some iconic projects were initiated in the first term. Should Lagosians expect more this second term?
Many projects will be completed this year; one is the Opebi-Ojota link bridge. We were there recently to see the level of work and we saw the transformation the bridge has brought to that area. When completed, people will no longer miss their flights because it will eliminate traffic congestion in that area.
Massey Children Hospital, which will be the biggest paediatric hospital in West Africa, if not Africa, will be completed in this second term. There is also the 500-bed Mental Health Hospital that we are building in Ketu-Ejinrin, Epe. It is both a treatment and rehabilitation centre. People do not pay so much attention to mental health; we only talk about other aspects of health that can be treated in general hospitals. But now, the Lagos State government is paying attention to this very important aspect of health because, through data, we realised it is fast becoming a big challenge in Nigeria.
Other numerous projects like the Lekki International Airport will be built on about 3,500 hectares of land, accommodate 350 aircraft, and are expected to take about five million passengers yearly. This would take pressure off the Murtala Muhammed International Airport.
The food and logistics hub, as well as the leather hub in Mushin, are ongoing and we hope to complete them this year. There is also the Omu Cricket project which will be connecting a virgin area of Lagos to Epe, and Itoomu, among others. The proposed Fourth Mainland Bridge is also there. A contractor has been selected and, any moment from now, we will be doing the groundbreaking. The second phase of the Blue Rail Line which will run from Mile 2 to Okokomaiko will also be completed. The phase 1 has opened up that corridor and made life simpler for residents. We hope to achieve the same for the second phase.
These projects are not just about the infrastructure; they are also avenues to create jobs for our people. The Fourth Mainland Bridge, stretching to about 37 kilometres, can generate about 10,000 jobs. It will also serve as an opportunity for our young engineers to get hands-on experience to boost their skills. Besides this, at the very heart of all of the transport initiatives is the inter-modal transportation model that we want to achieve so that people can have choices – road, rail and water so they can navigate the city seamlessly.
When Governor Sanwo-Olu came in, there were about seven ferries, which were later increased to 14. Very soon, we will be bringing in about 12 more ferries so that water transportation can be expanded and made more popular. Another project that will be completed is the Red Rail Line, which will run from Oyingbo to Agbado in Ogun State. This will reduce a journey of about three hours to just 32 minutes thereabouts. The project will be opened in the first quarter of this year.
The governor recently spoke of plans to build a medical university. What is the current status and where will it be sited?
The Medical College the governor mentioned is still on the drawing board, but it’s at the heart of Mr Governor because all of us have seen what the ‘Japa’ syndrome has done to the medical sector. Doctors are running overseas but Lagos is doing all to keep its doctors by providing them with good accommodation. We are building and already completed some hostels for them so they can be as close as possible to their work, they don’t have to stress themselves and spend transport fares. We are trying to provide everything that will make them comfortable. The government also believes that we should be able to produce more First Class Doctors as Lagos has been known for, and the governor said a medical college is going to be built so that Lagosians can have more access to good health care and students can study with less stress.
You have spoken glowingly about infrastructural projects. What plans are there for maintenance to ensure longevity?
Every time we go on project commissioning, Mr Governor tells Lagosians to see the projects as their own and not allow vandals to touch them. The maintenance is the work of all of us, we need to protect the projects and not abuse them by dumping refuse indiscriminately. We must comport ourselves in a civilised way that Lagosians are expected to behave. I can assure you that no train station lacks maintenance because there is a company, different from LAMATA, handling the cleaning and maintenance of them.
Most parts of the state are dark at night. Are there plans to revive the Light Up Lagos project?
Lagos is not dark and the street lights are working. However, we cannot continue to power the street lights with diesel because we all know the cost today. Spending about N700 million monthly to power streetlights does not just make sense. So the government is looking at retrofitting. You will see that the lamps are up now and are brighter than what was obtained before. This is because we have changed all the bulbs, the ones there do not consume power like the ones we used to have and they are still brighter. We are also trying to use gas and solar to save costs and keep the environment pollution-free. We are also trying to connect some of the street lights to the public power supply so that the problem of diesel can be out of it. But these are things that cannot be done within one to five months, they take time and are gradual, so people should continue to be patient and show understanding, the government knows this and is working on it.
What measures are in place to overhaul the state’s security architecture in the New Year?
You will agree with me that we do not just boast that Lagos is the most secure state in Nigeria because it is. And considering the kind of pressure we have, with people coming into the state every hour in their thousands, I think we deserve some praise for keeping the state this safe. Meanwhile, the state is safe not because we just talk about it, but because some people do not sleep while you and I do. Also, security measures are not something you put on television or splash on the pages of the newspapers; they are strategic and must be kept close to your chest.
Security is a business of all of us, where everyone is concerned and threats are reported as soon as it is noticed. Besides, Mr Governor holds regular strategic security meetings with all security agencies in the state to ensure the synergy remains strong. This has been very effective as evident in the reduced crime rate in the state. The personnel are also encouraged and motivated to give their best at all times, including ensuring they have adequate vehicles and equipment.